Working with Polarized Parts and a lesson from Walt Disney

Uncategorized Jun 26, 2023

Title: Navigating Polarization: A Guide to Working with Internal Family Systems

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a powerful therapeutic model that offers a compassionate and effective approach to understanding and healing the various parts within us. One common challenge clients face is polarization within their internal system, where different parts strongly oppose or conflict with each other. In this blog post, we will explore how therapists can utilize the principles and techniques of IFS to work with polarization and promote integration and harmony within the internal family.

Understanding Polarization:
Polarization occurs when parts of ourselves become strongly divided and create internal conflicts. For example, a person may have a part that desires success and achievement, while another part fears failure and holds back. This internal battle can lead to feelings of being stuck, overwhelmed, or torn between conflicting desires.

1. Cultivating Curiosity and Compassion:
As an IFS therapist, it is crucial to approach polarization with curiosity and compassion. Encourage clients to explore the different parts involved in the conflict, inviting them to express their concerns, desires, and fears. By approaching each part with an open mind and non-judgmental attitude, clients can start building a trusting and empathetic relationship with their internal family members.

2. Facilitating Dialogue between Parts:
Once clients have identified the conflicting parts, facilitate a dialogue between them. Ask each part to express its intentions, concerns, and fears. Encourage an open conversation where each part can listen to and understand the other's perspective. Remember, the therapist's role is to act as a mediator, guiding the conversation and ensuring that all parts feel heard and respected.

3. Acknowledging the Positive Intentions:
Every part within the internal system carries positive intentions, even if their methods or behaviors are counterproductive or conflicting. Help clients explore and appreciate the positive intentions behind each part's actions. This understanding fosters compassion and paves the way for finding more adaptive strategies to fulfill those intentions.

4. Nurturing Self-Leadership:
The concept of the Self in IFS plays a crucial role in working with polarization. The Self represents our core essence, embodying qualities such as compassion, wisdom, and curiosity. Encourage clients to connect with their Self and cultivate self-leadership during the process of working with polarization. The Self can provide stability, guidance, and a compassionate perspective that can help resolve conflicts and promote integration.

5. Unburdening and Healing Exiles:
Polarization often stems from unhealed wounds or traumas carried by exiled parts within the internal system. Support clients in creating a safe and nurturing environment for these exiles to express themselves. Through gentle exploration and healing interventions, such as guided visualization or EMDR, clients can release the emotional burdens held by their exiles and integrate their experiences into their sense of Self.

6. Building Collaboration and Integration:
As the therapeutic journey progresses, assist clients in finding common ground between polarized parts. Encourage them to explore ways in which the parts can collaborate, finding a balanced approach that respects the needs and concerns of each part. Help clients integrate the strengths and positive qualities of both parts, fostering a sense of wholeness and harmony within their internal system.

A lesson from Walt Disney:

A wonderful example of how to harness the power of polarities, is the creative process followed by Walt Disney when he worked on a new movie project. Disney believed: “If you can dream it, you can do it!” He would not stop at dreaming. He used three processes (dreaming, planning, and criticism) within an interactive triangle to realize his dreams.

Disney had the insight to give each of these processes its own space and time. The dreamer in him would visualize a new movie in great detail. The planner in him would then figure out how to make it happen. The critic would then examine the plan to find the flaws. The planner would either resolve the flaws or take the issue back to the dreamer to modify the original vision. After this process, Disney would step back, consider what these different voices in him had said, and make decisions from there. This comes from the book "The power of polarities." This is not necessarily an IFS book but I believe this explains how if we can find a way to create space for our parts (especially the ones that are in conflict) great things can happen. I often times will think of polarized parts as my own children. I have two boys and sometimes they are at odds. But if I can be a self led parent (Self) and create space so they each have a voice we can work together as a family.


Working with polarization in Internal Family Systems requires a compassionate and open-minded approach that encourages dialogue, understanding, and integration. By cultivating curiosity, facilitating communication between parts, and nurturing self-leadership, therapists can guide clients toward a more harmonious internal system. Through unburdening exiles and building collaboration, clients can experience a sense of wholeness, self-acceptance, and increased well-being. With the transformative power of IFS, clients can navigate polarization and create a more integrated and fulfilling life.

Note: As an IFS therapist, it is important to continually

deepen your knowledge and practice through training and supervision to ensure effective implementation of the model in your work with clients.

Book mentioned in this blog: van der Steur, John. The Power of Polarities: An Innovative Method to Transform Individuals, Teams, and Organizations. Based on Carl Jung’s Theory of the Personality.


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